Hampshire business leaders debated a major report which includes calls for the county to have its own mayor with devolved powers.

The report aims to promote Hampshire as the UK's Southern Gateway, in a move akin to the work of the Northern Powerhouse.

The white paper, called Unlocking Hampshire's Potential, was discussed at a gathering.

Contributors to the report, compiled by law firm Paris Smith, include Southampton port director Alastair Welch, NatWest Group senior manager for Southampton Carey Moore, Southampton Forward CEO Claire Whitaker and Hampshire Chamber of Commerce CEO Ross McNally.

The discussion centred around the ways the county can work collaboratively to drive economic growth. 

Peter Taylor, senior partner at Paris Smith, said: “We've had lots of very positive responses to this. We seem to have hit the right note.

"As a business, Paris Smith has a core strand to enable its community to thrive. The central south is a special place to live, work and play.

"People around the country are very envious of the assets and heritage we have on our doorstep. As a law firm, we're in a privileged position. It comes with benefits and obligations.

"We feel Hampshire and the central south has a key role to play in UK PLC. We have an international port in Southampton and a national asset in Portsmouth with the Royal Navy.

"We have centres of excellence at universities and colleges. We have national parks and culture aplenty.”

Daily Echo: Paris Smith white paper dinner

Ms Whitaker worked on Southampton's recent bid to be City of Culture.

She said lobbying together as one unified force was powerful.

The report said: "The fallout from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the cost-of-living crisis and the competition for levelling up funds means that now is the time to act. Complacency isn’t an option, particularly in the battle for public funds."

Hampshire County Council has already pitched for a pan-Hampshire devolution deal including the Isle of Wight.

Daily Echo: Paris Smith white paper dinner

The report added: "The push for greater collaboration needs to happen whether or not Hampshire as a county achieves devolution.

"The biggest challenge will be in finding common ground in a county which is so economically, geographically and socially diverse.

"This includes broaching traditional rivalries between the neighbouring port cities of Portsmouth and Southampton, and marrying their needs to the larger rural and agricultural areas that dominate much of the county, not to mention northern hubs such as Basingstoke and Aldershot which might feel more aligned with neighbouring Berkshire and Surrey."

The report highlights the key steps needed to take while progressing with devolution.

These include accessing levelling up cash, promoting Hampshire as the Southern Gateway, continuing with the Solent Freeport, boosting maritime, transport, green technology and defence hubs, addressing skills and education gaps, and taking a county-wide approach to tourism.

For more details about the white paper, visit parissmith.co.uk/whitepaper2023

The discussion - attended by Daily Echo Editor Ben Fishwick and Tracy Hayden - Newsquest Commercial Director, South Coast - was held at The White Horse Hotel in Romsey on Wednesday, November 15.